By FABIANNO MAISONNAVE, EDMAR BARROS and MAURICIO SAVARESE, Associated Press
MANUS, Brazil (AP) – A fisherman has confessed to killing a British journalist and an indigenous expert in the remote Amazon of Brazil and took police to a place where human remains were recovered, a federal investigator said. close 10 days of suspension while teams searched for the missing partner.
Authorities said Wednesday night without giving details that they expected more arrests to be made soon in the case of freelance journalist Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira of Brazil, who disappeared on June 5.
At a news conference in the Amazonian city of Manaus, a federal police investigator said the man who had been the main suspect confessed Tuesday night and detailed what happened to Phillips and Pereira. Investigator Eduardo Alexandre Fontes said 41-year-old Amarildo da Costa de Oliveira, nicknamed Pelado, told officers he used a firearm to kill the men.
“We would have no way to get to this place quickly without confession,” Torres said of the site where police recovered the human remains Wednesday after being driven there by Pelado.
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Torres said the remains were expected to be identified in a few days and, if confirmed as the missing men, “will be returned to the families of the two.”
“We found the bodies three kilometers (almost two miles) away in the woods,” the researcher said, adding that officers traveled about an hour and forty minutes by boat down a river and 25 more into the woods. to reach the place of burial.
Pelado’s family had previously said he denied any wrongdoing and said police tortured him in an attempt to obtain a confession.
Another officer, Guilherme Torres of the Amazon State Police, said the missing men’s boat had not yet been found, but that police knew the area where he was allegedly hiding from those involved in the crime.
“They put dirt bags on the boat so that it would sink,” he said. The ship’s engine was removed, according to investigators.
The press conference at the Brazilian Federal Police headquarters in Manaus also included military leaders, who joined the effort to find Phillips and Pereira just days after their disappearance was reported.
President Jair Bolsonaro, a frequent critic of indigenous journalists and experts, has called for criticism that the government did not get involved quickly enough. Earlier on Wednesday, he criticized Phillips in an interview, saying without proof that they did not like the premises in the area where he disappeared and that he should have been more careful in the region.
Efforts to find the two were initiated by the indigenous peoples of the region. UNIVAJA, an association of indigenous peoples in the Javari Valley, mourned the loss of “two partners” in a statement on Wednesday, adding that they only had help and protection from local police.
When federal police announced that they would hold a press conference, Pereira’s comrades convened a vigil in front of the headquarters of the Brazilian government’s indigenous affairs agency in Brasilia. Pereira was out of the agency.
Pereira, 41, and Phillips, 57, were last seen on their boat in a river near the entrance to the indigenous territory of the Javari Valley, which borders Peru and Colombia. Violent conflicts have been reported in that area between fishermen, poachers and government agents.
Advances began to move on Wednesday when federal police officers caught a suspect they did not identify at the time in the river to search groups searching for Phillips and Pereira.
A photographer from the Associated Press in Atalaia do Norte, the city closest to the search area, witnessed the police take away the suspect, who was wearing a hood.
On Tuesday, police said they had arrested a second suspect in connection with the disappearance. He was identified as 41-year-old Oseney da Costa de Oliveira, a fisherman and brother of Pelado, whom the police had already identified as his main suspect.
Police investigators said on Wednesday that de Oliveira had not confessed to any involvement in the crime, but added that they had evidence against him.
The natives who were with Pereira and Phillips have said that Pelado brandished a rifle on them the day before the couple disappeared.
Official search teams concentrated their efforts around a point on the Itaquai River where a tarpaulin of the boat used by the missing men was found on Saturday by volunteers from the Matis Indigenous group.
Authorities began searching the area and found a backpack, a laptop and other personal items submerged underwater on Sunday. Police said that night that they had identified the objects as belonging to the two missing men, including a health card and Pereira’s clothes. The backpack was said to belong to Phillips.
Police earlier reported that he had found traces of blood on Pelado’s boat. Officers also found organic matter of apparent human origin in the river that was sent for analysis.
Authorities say a major line of police investigation into the disappearance has been aimed at an international network that pays poor fishermen to fish illegally in the Javari Valley Reserve, Brazil’s second-largest indigenous territory. .
Pereira, who previously headed the local office of the indigenous federal agency, known as FUNAI, was involved in several operations against illegal fishing. In these operations, as a rule, fishing gear is confiscated or destroyed, while fishermen are fined and detained briefly. Only indigenous peoples can legally fish in their territories.
“The motive for the crime is a personal dispute over the inspection of the fishery,” Atalaia do Norte Mayor Denis Paiva told reporters without giving further details.
While some police officers, the mayor and others in the region link the couple’s disappearances to the “fish mafia,” federal police have not ruled out other lines of investigation, such as drug trafficking.
Torres, the federal police officer, reiterated that point Wednesday night, saying he could not discuss details of the investigation.
“We are working with several lines of research,” he said.
Following the news of the recovery of human remains, Phillips’ wife, Alessandra Sampaio, said the find “puts an end to the anguish of not knowing Dom and Bruno’s whereabouts.”
“Now we can take them home and say goodbye with love,” Sampaio said in a statement. “Today we also begin our search for justice.”
Maisonnave reported from Manaus and Savarese reported from Sao Paulo.
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